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How CPSIA May Affect Natural and Handmade Baby Products

Improving Safety Is The Goal, But Many Businesses Say They Can't Comply


The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA), approved in 2008, is a much-needed response to dangerous toys and products that were reaching our children. Parents and industry groups asked the government to do something about baby products safety after all of those lead paint recalls of 2007, and the magnet recalls and the phthalates and BPA and other potential health risks to children posed by their toys, clothes, blankets and other everyday items. The government's answer was CPSIA, which is enforced by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

CPSIA is well-intentioned, and will work to improve product safety for kids under age 12 in many ways. The problem lies in the fact that the broad language used in the act leaves many small businesses, particularly natural and handmade toys and baby products companies, wondering if they will be able to afford to continue making toys or baby products once CPSIA's testing requirements go into place on Feb. 10, 2009. Most small toy and baby product manufacturers do not disagree with the premise of CPSIA, nor do they feel that they should not need to show that their products are safe. Two issues come up often in relation to CPSIA and small handmade or natural toys and baby products companies - the type of testing that they are required to do, and whether or not there should be exemptions for natural and organic products where the inputs do not contain any harmful chemicals that could then be present in the final product.

CPSIA Testing For Lead, Phthalates and More

CPSIA requires companies to show that their toys and products intended for kids under 12 do not contain harmful amounts of lead and other chemicals, including phthalates. CPSIA requires that each batch of product be tested, which isn't a problem for companies that make large batches of clothes, toys or other products. When a company makes a batch of only five or ten of one handmade product at a time, testing one item from that batch can become cost-prohibitive.

Many small toy and children's product manufacturers are asking CPSC to consider allowing them to test their product inputs instead of testing one product from each batch. This means they could test all of the materials that go into the products, and then if they use the same materials for several different products, they would not need to test the same material again. This could lower the testing costs to small businesses while still requiring that some type of safety testing was done on children's products. Fashion Incubator, a popular site for small clothing manufacturers, lists some pros and cons of unit- vs. component-testing.

CPSIA And Natural Products

Products that are made with natural materials that do not contain lead are another source of contention among toy and baby products manufacturers. These manufacturers argue that if a product is made from materials that do not ever contain lead, it is wasteful to test the product for lead content later just to comply with CPSIA. For example, wool does not contain lead. If you made a wool baby blanket or a cloth diaper soaker out of wool, with no other materials, it would be nearly impossible for the product to suddenly develop lead contamination. Should the maker of this wool blanket have an open exemption to all CPSIA requirements? No, probably not. But it's reasonable to exempt them from the lead testing requirement if it can be shown that natural, lead-free are used exclusively in making the product. The Handmade Toy Alliance has some proposals and petitions available with suggestions for modifications to CPSIA that would benefit small businesses.

Make CPSIA Work For Small Businesses

Companies and industry groups can apply to CPSC for some type of relief or exemption to the new requirements, though we don't know yet what CPSC will do to handle those requests. An across-the-board exemption for sole proprietor businesses or handmade baby products businesses or even natural toys or products is not necessarily helpful, though. While the bulk of the dangerous products we've seen recalled recently have been made in China or produced by larger companies, that is not always the case. There are plenty of small businesses in the U.S. that make dangerous baby products. Ill-fitting custom car seat covers made from flammable fabrics. Pacifiers with crystals glued on the front. Handmade clothes with improperly sewn buttons or other choking hazards. Relaxing the safety standards for an entire group of businesses won't do anyone any good (and to be clear, very few manufacturers are asking for a blanket exemption). Finding a way to help small companies comply, however, benefits us all.

Handmade and natural baby products add a lot to the baby products industry, as do the many other small businesses that make and sell unique baby items. CPSIA should certainly be enforced in as many workable ways possible to make sure that products reaching our kids are safe, even those products made by small businesses. However, causing those businesses to fail by not allowing them to switch to other testing and compliance methods that are more appropriate for the scale and type of business does a big disservice to everyone.

CPSC Grants Stay On CPSIA Testing & Certification

The hard work of toy companies and handmade baby products companies to make their story heard finally paid off when, in Jan. 2009, CPSC voted to put the testing and certification requirements on hold until Feb. 10, 2010. These companies are still required to meet the new lead and phthalates limits when making their products. They just don't have to complete the testing and show certificates of conformity as required by CPSIA right now. The stay does not apply to the ban on lead paints and surface coatings, the new small parts rules, new crib and pacifier standards or lead content guidelines for children's jewelry. Industry groups say the stay helps, but doesn't solve the problem entirely. Some companies may still have to test and certify now if their retailers require it, as will those companies with products with small parts, as those are not included in the stay.
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